A week after the worst storm in decades forced an evacuation of Pawleys Island, residents were still digging out.
The island on the south end of the Grand Strand, hemmed by salt marshes on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, had seen some wind damage and severe storm surge during the height of Hurricane Matthew. But with the surge came sand, and now, homeowners and contractors were busy clearing it from under homes that were raised to avoid flooding.
Steven Thigpen, who works for James W. Smith Real Estate Co., was digging out the bottom of the company’s house at 680 Springs Ave. As he dug around an overturned table, buried under feet of sand, he said an onlooker had asked him if shoveling sand was as bad as shoveling snow.
“I said, ‘I’m a southern boy. I never shoveled snow in my life,’ ” Thigpen said.
Many homes facing the shore had serious damage to their lower level, and the south end of the island was blockaded by police, who allowed access only to homeowners and contractors. Springs Avenue was mostly covered, appearing as if the beach extended almost all the way to the marshes, and piles of ruined cabinets, mattresses, beach toys and lamps sat along the road. Near the home Thigpen worked on, a beach chair was almost entirely buried in the sand, as just a few inches of metal and blue fabric glinted in the sun.
The town of Pawleys Island, residents said, is trying to preserve the sand, and workers in large Caterpillar equipment pushed it up in a ridge against the houses to approximate the dunes that Matthew had blown away.
“It’s kind of sad, but it could have been worse,” Thigpen said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Kenneth Gillespie, who had come down from his home near Clemson with his wife to walk the beach and see the damage, said he had come to Pawleys Island since he was a child.
“It just makes you sick,” he said. “It’s a lot of memories down here.”
The couple even honeymooned there, Gillespie said. “[The damage is] worse than I expected,” he said.
Raejean Beattie’s house completely lost two concrete walls on its bottom level to surge. She opened a door from the lower carport to the room that lost the walls, which now featured a direct opening to the ocean. “Look at that view!” she said.
Beattie added, “It’ll all come back together. We’re lucky we didn’t have more damage.”
Ed Venters’ longtime family beach house was damaged on the side facing the ocean. The back porch fell off, the roof had been damaged and was hanging down on the inside of the house. Another seam between the roof and a wall was stained with the telltale brown blotches of water leakage.
Venters said his father built the first house on the plot the year after Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and that he rebuilt the home after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. That storm carried the original house across the salt marsh and set it down on the other side, almost in one piece, he said.
Hopefully, by the time a third house has to built, it would be his son’s turn, he said.
“Having a house here is a bit like having a relative with a terminal disease,” Venters said. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.”